Christ Died for the Church – [His Elect Bride]

 

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version (updated) unless otherwise noted.

 

Introduction

For whom did Jesus actually die? Was it every person who enters the world? Or was it for a specific people? The extent of Christ’s atonement is much debated among Christians. Jesus either died for everyone, or He died only for a particular group of people and of those who make up that group. I believe Paul answers that question in Ephesians 5:22-23. In this study I’ll make the case that Jesus died solely for the purpose of saving His Church and the individual members who make up His Church. Paul states it so plainly that we shouldn’t have to wonder who Jesus actually died for. He compares the relationship between husband & wife and Christ & His Church in such a way as to remove all doubts.

 

Ephesians 5:22-33

22 Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church, being himself the Savior of the body. 24 But as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself up for her; 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the Church to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loves his own wife loves himself: 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ also the Church; 30 because we are members of his body. 31 For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great: but I speak in regard to Christ and of the Church. 33 Nevertheless, each of you must also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

In this passage Paul provides instructions for both husbands and wives in regard to their relationship with one another. While these instructions are certainly given for the benefit of the Christian marriage, I believe it’s just as much his purpose to reveal the extent of the atonement. I think the comparisons Paul provides are too detailed to come to any other conclusion. He reveals a relationship between Christ and His Church that is so special and so exclusive, that we can only reasonably conclude that redemption was provided solely for His Bride (Rev 19:8; 21:2, 9; 22:17).

 

From this point we’ll take a careful look at the pertinent details of Paul’s discussion:

22 Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church, being himself the Savior of the body. 24 But as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself up for her;

Paul makes two plainly stated declarations, that Christ is “himself the Savior of the body” (the Church), and that “Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself up for her.” We could stop right here and never again have to wonder about the extent of the atonement. Christ’s sacrifice was for the purpose of redeeming His Church, His Bride. Christians may object that, just because Christ died for His Church doesn’t mean He didn’t die for everyone else too. However, as we go through this passage it will become evident that Jesus died exclusively for His Church, His Bride.

Let’s talk about the husband and wife relationship. This relationship is the most personal and intimate relationship there is. The husband and wife are one with each other. It’s a relationship that excludes all others. Ideally (as Christ to His Bride), the husband is completely focused on his wife. He has eyes for no other woman. He thinks about no other woman. The husband is completely devoted to his wife, and to no other woman. This describes Christ’s relationship with His Bride — His Church. Jesus is completely devoted to her, to taking care of her. When we consider the exclusive devotion and all the intimacies of the husband and wife relationship, it soon becomes clear that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, He was thinking exclusively of His Bride. It’s a reasonable conclusion.

Even in the pre-wedding stage – the engagement period – the husband-to-be is totally focused and devoted to his wife-to-be. Everything he does is for her benefit. Everything he does leading up to the wedding is in preparation for that day. The betrothal is for the purpose of preparing both for that special day in their lives. This engagement period is a picture of Christ’s pre-crucifixion. It was in preparation for the uniting of Him and His Bride, “that he might present the Church to himself a glorious Church….” (vs. 27). The picture presented by the betrothal and the marital relationship is so clear and undeniable that it’s really hard to miss. Let’s look at verses 25-27 again in full:

 

25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself up for her; 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the Church to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and without blemish.

When we put verses 25 and 27 together (words in bold), it reads like this:

“….even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself up for her….that he might present the Church to himself a glorious Church….”

In other words, Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, for the purpose of presenting the Church to Himself. Note the purpose. I believe this is the grand revelation regarding the atonement, that Christ died to redeem His Church, and His Church alone — in all her glory as a complete Church. It’s His Bride that He is devoted to and what His whole life and ministry and crucifixion was all centered on. He came to accomplish a specific purpose, and that purpose was to redeem His people from their sins — that is, each member that make up His Church.

God gives us allegories for a reason. We’re to learn truth from them. They present a picture so that we’re able to understand the message that’s being conveyed. The picture of particular redemption is unmistakable here. Lest there be any doubt about that, Paul ends this discussion by making it clear:

 

29 for no one ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ also the Church; 30 because we are members of his body. 31 For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great: but I speak in regard to Christ and of the Church.

First notice that Christ “cherishes” the Church. He cherishes it, because it’s made up of individual members, “members of his body.” The Church is not just a concept, but a living organism, made up of real people. The individual parts make up the whole. Now notice what Paul says next in regard to His Bride:

 

31 For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.

This is a quote from Genesis 2:24. Let’s look at the whole context:

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (ESV)

Notice the oneness of man and woman. The woman was created from one of man’s ribs, and then God brought her to man. Then Paul, with the relationship between Christ and His Church in mind, he quotes Genesis 2:24, saying: “For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.” Paul is revealing something wonderful here. Just as a man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife, so does Christ leave His Father in Heaven to be joined to His Church, His Bride. We know this is what Paul means because he says: “This mystery is great: but I speak in regard to Christ and of the Church.” Or as the ESV words it: “I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

I believe what Paul reveals here, most certainly supports limited atonement (particular redemption). The very purpose, the very “reason” that He left His throne in Glory was to “give himself up for her (vs. 25)” to be joined to His Church, for He is the “Savior of the body” (vs. 23). If the very reason He left Heaven was to “give himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession” (Tit 2:14), then it follows that the blood He shed was specifically for the benefit of His Church, His Bride. Again, in the husband and wife relationship, there is no room for anyone else….not even during the engagement period — which again, is a picture of Christ’s life and ministry leading up to the cross (marriage).

 

Conclusion

The atonement of Christ and the election of His people are directly connected. We see in this passage both corporate election and individual election. The choosing of the Church, is corporate election. This was the unconditional, Sovereign choosing of God. It follows then, that the individual members who make up the Church, are chosen the same way. Accordingly, the atonement of Christ had to be for those whom God had “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4),” because the election of God’s people is specific, because Christ’s Church is made up of specific members. They are not an unknown people to God, and have never been unknown. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, it was with His completed Church in mind — everyone who would ever be saved to the end of the world. We’re given a revelation of God’s completed Church in Rev 5:9-10 and Rev 7:4-10, who is Christ’s glorious Bride as we see in Rev 19:6-9; 21:1-2, 9-11; 22:17. If the Church (Bride) in its complete and glorified form was revealed to John, then surely it’s the actual members of His glorious Church that Jesus shed His blood for. Those whom John saw, Jesus saw and gave His life for.